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Duped in the name of the presidency, people with disabilities

An architectural masterplan lists facilities to be constructed at prototype rehabilation centres for "Persons with Disabilities Within the Six zones of the Federation"

At least two businessmen tell Daily Trust they have been duped out of millions of naira in a scam using the Presidency and people living with disabilities (PWDs) as cover.

Under a banner project to construct rehabilitation centres for PWDs across Nigeria’s six geopolitical zones, they were offered building and renovation contracts on condition that they paid N5m in corporate social responsibility for PWDs.

The contractors paid N5m for each contract since last February and have since discovered the projects never existed, they told Daily Trust.

One contractor, Solomon Opara, of United Allied Engineering Ltd, said he lost N80m to the scam. Another, Aliyu Muhammad, of Arabo & Co Nig Ltd, equally lost millions in two scam contracts.

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Behind the banner project was the Federal Civil Service Staff With Disabilities Multipurpose Cooperative Society (FCSSWDMCS) with Abdulrauf Iliasu named as chief executive officer and its rehabilitation committee, which he also chairs.

Abdulrauf Iliyasu, national coordinator and CEO of the Federal Civil Service Staff With Disabilities Multipurpose Cooperative Society (FCSSWDMCS)

Daily Trust has severally reached out to Iliasu and visited his office three times with contractors’ claims that he used the cover of the presidency and PWDs to con them without success.

None of the numbers listed on the letterhead of the cooperative have been available since February. Messages sent to the same numbers have not been answered.

Elaborate scheme

FCSSWDMCS letterhead lists its address as 1 Usman Danfodio Streets, that’s right opposite Presidential Banquet Hall at Aso Rock Villa. The address has its banner tied to the gate. It reads: “The Presidency: Office of the SA to the president on disability matters, in partnership with federal civil service staff with disabilities Coop commenced special rehabilitation/empowerment for persons with disabilities in Nigeria.”

Contractors tell Daily Trust the perceived Aso Villa address and perceived link to the presidency contributed to make the FCSSWDMCS convincing—and the projects believable. Iliasu moved with security escort. On the last visit, Daily Trust was told he travelled with an attachment of three policemen. The contractors remember him moving with security outriders.

When Opara was introduced to Iliasu, the FCSSWDMCS cover story was construction of “prototype rehabilitation centres for PWDs within the six zones of the federation.”

The prototype listed in project design Daily Trust has seen included:

  • Hostel accommodation
  • Administrative building, library and multipurpose hall
  • Skill acquisition centre/small scale industry
  • Dining hall
  • Mosque
  • Church
  • ICT centre
  • Staff accommodation
  • Heath centre
  • Classrooms
  • Mini sports centre
  • Cooperative, thrift and credit society/centre.

Architectural firm Al-Ahadi Nig Ltd is listed as “architect and project managers” for the project. The firm admitted it produced the architectural drawing in 2014, but since then hasn’t been paid nor heard from FCSSWDMCS.

FCSSWDMCS documents given to contractors have Iliasu signing the award of contract in 2014, and then signing again in a separate document to “revalidate” the contract in 2018.

After paying for a bid, Opara said Iliasu offered a N700m contract to fence the project site in Kogi.

“But he said I would pay N5m for corporate social responsibility,” Opara recalled the conversation. “I said why do we have to pay in advance. It is when when have started and we have been mobilized and paid you can take CSR from that payment. He said that was how federal government structured it—to separate the chaff from the wheat. They wanted to see people who were capable, they didn’t want to waste time.”

Opara said he questioned the guarantee that he would get the job and was told that anybody who wouldn’t get the job wouldn’t be made to pay the CSR fee.

“I asked how he would know who can do the job, and he told me they had been collecting company profiles for assessment and doing selective bidding.

“It might have been sentimental. I never thought someone would try to make money using the office of such disadvantaged individuals,” Opara told Daily Trust. “And he’s in the Villa, and he’s going around with three policemen with guns, and he has security outriders. That’s how he operates.”

Opara paid the N5m. Another requirement for the contract was to get a performance bond before he could be mobilized. “World Trade was given as the insurance company to pay the money out,” he said.

A letter for the insurance company reads “World Trade Multipurpose Cooperative Society Ltd (Insurance Services)”, with address listed as “4th Floor, Churchgate Tower C, Constitution Avenue, Opposite World Trade Centre” in Abuja’s Central Business District.

After the fencing contract was secured, Opara said Iliasu approached him again and convinced to go for the entire contract—extending to constructing the facilities within evaluated at another N700m on the same condition of N5m in CSR.

He was offered a third contract in Gwagwalada and a fourth in Toro, Bauchi—all on the same condition. The last was for “fencing, clearing and landscaping” for N1.4 billion.

FCSSWDMCS was to mobilise Opara’s United Allied with N210 million—that’s 15% of the contract’s worth, but it demanded a performance bond. United Allied paid World Trade to secure a bond, according to documents kept by the contractors.

That was in February 2018.

“We found out later that the World Trade belongs to him. Two weeks, four weeks since February till today, nothing.”

In addition to the CSR payments, Opara said he paid another N5 million for ground breaking, a separate N2 million demanded for “sallah fasting”, and nearly N3 million in backhands “that he comes to collect” and other payment. His loss totals nearly N80 million.

The contractors still have documents that showed contracts they were awarded

Paper to one contract awarded to Allied Engineering

Payments, tellers and bank cheques were acknowledged and signed on FCSSWDMCS letterhead.

“We have not discovered he’s a conman. There are no such jobs. Until tomorrow they are waiting for their money from CBN. Unless I am proven otherwise, I will apologise,” he said.

Opara, a power engineer, lives in England. But he was sucked in by the optics. “When I saw this, people with disabilities, the jobs were there, I saw him talking, in the Villa, security apparatus. Even when he was going to toilet, those people are with him. I keyed in,” he said in regret.

“Someone hiding under the powers that be is duping people of hard-earned money., and he is still duping.”

Opara opined the number of victims could be anywhere between 14 and 370, since the names and contracts awarded to individual bidders were kept secret to seemingly encourage bidders to outperform each other.

Hidden traps

Aliyu Muhammad, of Arabo & Co Nig Ltd, was often pitted against other contractors, but in the end nailed two contracts—one in Gwagwalada and another in Kano—after paying N5m in CSR for PWDs on each.

The first was a N620m project to fencing a site in Gwagwalada. “At the end of the day, the place didn’t belong to people with disabilities,” he said.

By the turn of the second project in Kano, he demanded of Iliasu to see the structures.

“He provided detailed architectural drawings. I called the consultant to be sure everything is in place, so how can you doubt something like this,” he said.

“They are using PWD to dupe people. He and I went to the senior special assistant to the president, Dr [Samuel] Ankeli; he confirmed that they had such jobs, that we should pay.”

Armed with physical documentation, Muhammad and Opara went to site at Gwagwalada. They went separately. Only in the retelling has it become clear they went to the same site.

The land right was holding back the project and they were told that would be sorted.

“He said it had been a long time coming, so they want to conclude it, finish the project, get it standing, make the people happy so they will be guided to vote for the president,” said Opara. “I put my sign board there; they removed it.”

“I put mine there also,” countered Muhammadu. “The day I put my signboard, they removed it. I took it to my house. I was sure then that the land didn’t belong to [FCSSWDMCS].  I learnt the people had not been compensated.”

Opara continued: “I have been to sites where communities say, ‘don’t do anything because we have not been compensated’. But gradually things are resolved. I thought with this kind of project, they will resolve it, but it doesn’t exist.”

“It is right from that moment, I knew we have been trapped,” said Aliyu. “I knew then I am in deep shit.”

The lineup of victims includes a “young man” said to have borrowed money to front for nonexistent contracts and now lost nearly N30 million, and the chairman of the All Progressives Congress in Imo, Daniel Nwafor.

Daily Trust contacted Nwafor; he said he’d never head of the FCSSWDMCS.

Daily Trust contacted several associations, civil society groups and cooperatives working with civil servants or people with disabilities. None had ever heard of or worked with FCSSWDMCS.

An online search of the Corporate Affairs Commission’s database of companies did not find the FCSSWDMCS or World Trade, but found at least one of the contracting outfits.

An inquiry was sent to the commission requesting the legal status of all four companies—FCSSWDMCS, World Trade United Allied and Arabo. Weeks later, the commission replied they were “bogus” since none of the names listed on letterheads had an RC No—the company registration number required to be listed alongside the company name.

 

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